Fibromyalgia symptoms flares triggers

Fibromyalgia Flares: Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment

Fibromyalgia – an example a central pain syndrome – is a chronic health condition characterized by symptoms of widespread muscle pain, fatigue, memory problems and mood changes. As in many chronic diseases, fibromyalgia symptoms can come and go and vary in intensity.

Fibromyalgia Symptoms

While a person with fibromyalgia might experience certain symptoms on a regular basis, when symptoms worsen or happen more frequently for a period of time, it is called a flare.

“A flare is the worsening or exacerbation of symptoms that already exist,” says Daniel Clauw, MD, professor of anesthesiology, rheumatology and psychiatry at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. “Patients use different timeframes for what they consider a flare, but it’s generally several days or weeks of worsening symptoms. Anything shorter is considered normal waxing and waning of symptoms that someone with fibromyalgia can expect.”

Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

  • Widespread muscle pain
  • Fatigue that makes completing daily activities difficult
  • Stiffness, especially in the morning or after a long period of inactivity
  • Cognitive difficulties, also known as fibro fog, including problems with memory, concentration and organization
  • Emotional issues, such as anxiety, sadness or depression
  • Sleep problems, such as taking a long time to fall or sleep, frequent waking or waking up and still not feeling rested

While these are common symptoms among people with fibromyalgia, everyone experiences flares differently.

“People with fibromyalgia do not all experience flares the same way,” Dr. Clauw says. “A good way to explain it is that every person with fibromyalgia has their Achilles heel – their ‘thing’ that really gives them trouble. When their fibromyalgia worsens, that particular thing really gets bad.”

A person’s predominant symptoms during a flare can change over time.

“A person who is flaring might seem to have a worsening of pain in their hips or back,” Dr. Clauw says. “But 10 years ago, that same person could have experienced bad menstrual cramps or headaches as their Achilles heel. The nature of fibromyalgia is that it’s a pain amplification syndrome, and that pain can shift.”

Triggers for Fibromyalgia Flares

One of the best ways to prevent a flare is to determine what might be causing it in the first place. These causes are called triggers. Like symptoms, triggers for fibromyalgia vary by person, but they can include:

  • Physical or psychological stress
  • Temperature and/weather changes
  • Hormonal changes
  • Traveling and/or changes in schedule
  • Changes in treatment
  • Diet
  • Poor sleep

“We know that any type of stress – not just psychological, but also physical, immune or anything that disrupts the body’s normal routine – can trigger a flare,” Dr. Clauw says. “Anything from a motor vehicle accident to surgery or another type of stressful life event can cause a worsening of symptoms. Flares can also be caused by behavioral triggers such as not sleeping well, suddenly stopping exercise or overdoing it on activity.”

Some flares are unavoidable, and certain triggers are beyond your control. You can try to identify what aggravates your fibromyalgia symptoms by keeping a log of your activities, what you eat, how you sleep and how all of those factors influence your symptoms. After logging these factors for several weeks, you might be able to see a pattern. This will help you know how to better manage the inputs that might trigger a flare.

Treating a Fibromyalgia Flare

Despite your best efforts, sometimes your fibromyalgia is going to flare. While the urge is to reach for a magic pill, there is no treatment for fibromyalgia that is flaring.

“The truth is we’re far better at preventing flares than we are treating them,” Dr. Clauw says. “There’s no rescue medication for fibromyalgia. The medications approved for fibromyalgia take weeks to start working, and pain medications like opioids don’t work well for a lot of people.”

In the absence of effective medication, Clauw suggests taking a look at the behaviors you’re engaging in that might be affecting your symptoms.

“A lot of people with fibromyalgia tend to overdo it with activity when they’re feeling well,” Dr. Clauw says. “Learning to pace yourself can help get you out of the cycle of doing too much while you’re feeling well and then paying for it later when your fibromyalgia flares.”

While you may be reluctant to add something to your schedule if you’re already tired and in pain, mind-body practices can be great mood lifters and pain relievers. Try meditation, deep-breathing, and forms of exercise that include stretching and relaxation, such as yoga.

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10 thoughts on “Fibromyalgia Flares: Symptoms, Triggers and Treatment

  1. My Rheumatoid Arthritis is not under control right now. MD considering whether biologic no longer working. I’ve been having increased symptoms for 2 1/2 months now. However some of my symptoms feel like my Fibromyalgia eg items easily carried before are now too heavy. Is it likely that if one disease process flares it may trigger the other? Thank you.

  2. My symptoms began years ago with various muscle aches all over, putting it down to know there was “something wrong”.progressed to back ache for over two years until eventually I went to the doctor for tests. Degenerative disc disease. This did not account for a huge flare up of many other symptoms until eventually diagnosed with Fibro. It seems DDD and fibro go hand in hand? I now notice that I am feeling the symptoms of RA, again this seems to be something else all part of the same thing. If all these things are linked, surely medical science can find out what really causes Fibromyalgia? I hope so. So that we can look forward to the discovery of prevention. I am someone who has always had a high to,erance for pain, a strong hard working person who does not give in easily to illness so ifall this can get to me, this disease is truly terrible.

    I am not “giving in” but I am frustrated by the hinderance in my life. This has impacted me so terribly and I want to know how to cure it. I keep hearing of more and more people suffering, what is causing this?

    1. Replying to previous comment, about being hard working and highly tolerant to illness etc.. that describes me to a T. I had a professional career, productive mentality and overall self sufficient; Fibromyalgia and DDD have rendered me to the degree of disabled. All of the symptoms described are totally relatable. I hope with all my heart that medicine progresses to help people like us. It’s very difficult for others to understand, especially I think because I’m only 35.

  3. wow, not cool but sadly I’m glad to say I’m not the only one, and JUlie i get exactly the feeling. But i am 49 and come to find out i have fibro well at least that is what I’m being told, i have struggled with all the symptoms for a few years but never paid mind to them because i just thought they were due to working hard and all the other crap i was doing in my life with bad choices. I also have high tolerance to pain. Yet to come to 2018 knowing different sucks. It has really affected my work performance for last 4 years where i have lost many jobs and the one I’m at now I am about to lose. Just the thought of being labeled disabled just so i can be able to live is somewhat scary, yes that is how bad my pain and flare ups are getting. They have gotten more frequent this last year. This does not include all the other health issues i have and had along with surgeries. All i can say is i pray the best for us all and that your faith in what ever you believe helps you through this as my has for me. Be blessed y’all

  4. I am 71 yrs young and have osteoarthritis and fibro and they both appear to wind around each other. Has anyone else out there ever heard of this. Please reply. Thanks

  5. Nancy, I too have DDD,Osteoarthritis,and Fibromyalgia. Recent flare was extremely painful. My bed was my best friend for 3.5 days. Finally had to give in and take Flexeril, Naproxen, and Gabapentin. “Last Resort”. As I commonly refer to these meds. I never thought in a million years I would become disabled,,, but in realistic terms I am. Everyday is a gift use it wisely so the saying goes. Stay strong fellow Warriors.

  6. I can relate- and yes, the two conditions can cause misery at the same time! I’m now in my 80’s, and have had fibromyalgia since my 40’s, and the osteoarthritis began about the time I retired at 65. Stress and weather changes cause the most symptoms. ( I live in Oklahoma, so many weather problems!)
    The best relief for me is a regular treatment of myofascial release, which I receive monthly from an excellent chiropractor. This involves almost an hour of gentle massage and adjustment, and occasionally acupuncture.
    I hope you might be able to find such treatment!

  7. So refreshing to hear that others understand my pain.
    I haven’t even been diagnosed as I’m worried that it’s something nasty.
    My symptoms scream fm and now after reading through this I gonna make that appointment…thanks all

  8. I was diagnosed with fibromyalga 4 years ago. I have finally accepted that I am ‘disabled’ as I can’t even get out of bed for up to 4 days in a row sometimes. I try and stay positive but I have a poor quality life now. I’m wondering if anybody out there with Fibro has applied for disability and received it. My doctor told me not to bother even applying as Fibromyalgia still isn’t even recognized as a real disease.

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